Ever since humankind discovered spices and sweeteners, we have always preferred our food sweeter, saltier, and generally more savory. However, as populations grew and food costs soared, scientists sought cheaper ways of producing food additives and condiments. Artificial food additives were their answer.
Food additives are any unnatural substances that are intentionally added to food to enhance its appearance, flavor, texture, or freshness. On pre-packaged food products, additives are normally listed by weight.
Examples of food additives in common use today include:
Sweeteners are some of the most common artificial food additives in use today. Due to their widespread use, it is thus understandable that consumers should be concerned by their safety:
Sweeteners Are Generally Safe for Humans
Like other food-grade additives, artificial sweeteners are generally safe for human consumption. Before they are approved for commercial production, all food additives undergo extensive tests on animals to ensure they are safe for humans.
Where the sweetener is later found to be unsafe after having been initially approved, the approval is withdrawn. This rarely happens though as the toxicological testing is quite rigorous. It should also be noted that most artificial additives also occur naturally in some fruits and vegetables common in most diets, sometimes in much higher proportions.
But there is always need to sound some caution where unnatural food additives are concerned. As food additives are tested in isolation, their long term effects on humans are unknown when consumed in combination with other artificial additives.
Uncontrolled or indiscriminate use of food additives may yet pose health hazards to consumers. For example, certain preservatives such as nitrites and nitrates can lead to the production of toxic substances, like nitrosamines that have been implicated in cancer etiology.
Sweeteners Are Healthy, As Long As They Are Used In Moderation
Artificial sweeteners are produced from genetically modified crops like corn, soy etc. They are more potent than table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. By their nature, artificial sweeteners prevent association of sweetness with calorie intake. When used in excess, they can cause overstimulation of sugar receptors and lead to the development of tolerance.
Artificial sweeteners that are in common use today include:
4. Neotame (7000 times sweeter than sugar)
5. Sucralose (600 times sweeter than sugar)
6. Low-calorie sweetener (natural) stevia (200-300 times sweeter than sugar).
Possible Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
Artificially refined sweeteners contain large amounts of concentrated sugars which can cause high blood sugar levels, high insulin levels, high triglyceride levels, and increased release of inflammatory mediators and oxygen radicals.
Caution thus needs to be exercised when using sweeteners, as over-consumption can lead to all manner of negative health outcomes, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and weight gain.
Sweeteners can also alter the gastrointestinal metabolism and the sensitivity of taste buds. They also increase food cravings and alter the responses of the satiety center. As a result, the person feels hungrier and loses the ability to control how much they eat, which are all risk factors for obesity and its own associated risks.
In light of all this, it is important that all sweeteners, artificial and natural, are consumed in moderation. Just as too much fat is not good for the human body, there is a point where artificial sweeteners will start to harm your health.
Some Sweeteners May Cause Allergies
Even when approved, some artificial sweeteners may cause allergic reactions, like hives, in some people. Others experience diarrhea-like effects. But, as the same reactions can also be experienced with natural foods, these cannot be a basis on which an artificial additive is deemed unsafe.
The onus is on the individual to know what specific food chemicals they have intolerances for or are allergic to. When consumed in moderation, there is no reason why food stuffs that contain artificial sweeteners can’t be enjoyed safely.